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The Art of Christmas: Meditations on the birth of Jesus by Jane Williams

22 October 2021

Richard Harries reads art-based meditations on the coming of Christ

THIS excellent book in small format consists of 20 works of art depicting different aspects of the Christmas theme, each with a biblical reading and a meditation from Jane Williams. All are paintings, except the Black Madonna of Montserrat. The book includes the expected figures, angels, shepherds, kings, and the occasional unexpected, one such as Hannah the mother of Samuel.

Dr Williams picks out arresting details from the paintings to draw our eye to them and arouse our interest, but her main focus is on biblical truth and how it is expressed by the artist. She draws on her deep knowledge of the Bible and writes with clarity and elegance. As Christmas officially begins on Christmas Day, the proper time to use these meditations would be in the days after Christmas, but I imagine most people will want to use them in Advent in the period leading up to Christmas. Each one provides a good springboard for personal reflection and prayer.

The overall theme is well stated in the mediation on Giotto’s nativity scene. “God, on whom all creation depends for existence is able and willing to live with us and die with us so that at every turn, we find ourselves in God’s life-giving presence.”

I found in this book some of my favourites, such as Botticelli’s Mystical Nativity and Geertgen tot Sint Jans’s Nativity at Night, both in the National Gallery. There are also some that I was not so familiar with which I liked, such as Rogier van der Weyden’s Visitation and Guido Reni’s Joseph with the Infant Jesus.

The author makes sense of the strange Adoration of the Kings by Pieter Bruegel, as showing “a fallen world full of suspicion and intrigue” and made me see sublime truth in a scene that I do not usually respond to, the Baroque heavenly family by Giovanni Pittoni.

It is a pity, as I have mentioned before in reviews of this SPCK series, that it does not say where the original works can be seen. Also, there are no dates given for the artists, which is a lack.

The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth is a former Bishop of Oxford.

The Art of Christmas: Meditations on the birth of Jesus
Jane Williams
SPCK £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.99

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